Big thank you from

The ghostly lone piper at Piper's Hill

by The Digger

Time for the choristers to change the 'canary song' outside the old Menary's store, which has now made way for the City's Post Office.MANY years ago I remember travelling from Belfast International Airport to seek my fortune in Ontario, Canada. Travelling solo meant sharing the company of a stranger on the long haul flight.

I was seated beside a lady, a native of Belfast, and her daughter who were travelling back to Ontario after a short vacation to the city,.

Before we landed in Toronto, I received an invite to their home at Guelph, a three hour journey away from where I was staying. During my short stay in Canada I took up the invitation.

Alas my stay in Canada was short and I soon discovered the grass was not that green.

I was to return to Belfast several weeks later. This meant engaging in conversation with another stranger on the long haul flight. Ironically the lady beside me was travelling to see her family in Hillsborough and she too was from Guelph, and knew the family I had spent the day with.

There has never been a truer saying than "It's a small world, isn't it?"

Stranger still, several weeks ago, almost 20 years after my visit to Canada, I was logging onto one of the local websites on the inter-net, the brainchild of local man Jim Collins, to find a section on 'Lisburn Exiles'. Who should I find there amongst the 160 or so names registered? - the lady I had met travelling home to Hillsborough.

Exile sites are popular on the internet and allow those in foreign parts to keep in touch with their roots.

There is an intricate web of memories from yesteryear amongst the exiles' daily greetings and chit-chat. In fact books have been written on less information.

Who remembers - Lisburn Boxing Club at Quay Street, Billy Rainey the hairdresser in Bridge Street, Joe Boy Collins the boxer, Lizzie Nicholson who owned the little store by the Lagan, the Fish Bowl in Bridge Street, Lilley's Fish and Chip shop, Jim and Albert Hanna at the Blacksmiths in Smithfield, Davy 'nuck-nuck', 'Sticky' Sloan at the Picture House, Chestnut the local 'bobby', Sammy Allen the coalman, Dan Gorman 's barber's shop, Kitty Malloy's, Bap Row, Rickard's Shop, Dixie Munn, Tom Crossey's boot shop at Chapel Hill, Topping's Stores, the pawn shop and tap-dancing classes in the 50's?

It is all there and actively being talked about and debated. Stories of the locals in Hilden hanging out their washing between Mill Street and Bridge Street, the pump at Down Villas outside Leathems and the days of dry toilets which were emptied periodically by the carters from the Mill.

Everything is open for discussion including the bailiffs visit to the neighbourhood in the 1960s and children buying the 'spricklebegs' at Ginny Blacks to catch the minnows in the Lagan.

The debate continues on the forum about the steps in the Grand Street area known as the '41' steps. These were well used by the mill workers on their journeys to and from work. Some are of the opinion that there were 56 steps. I can remember one of my old friends who knew the area 'like the back of your hand' telling me there were definitely 63 steps! I'm sure someone will correct this. It was during a time when the doors were always open and the kettle always on the boil. We'll never know who the lady was from the district whose domestic abilities were challenged when they mention the old saying on the forum - "If she was weak as the tea she makes, they would be sitting up with her!"

The discussions online are current and topical. News had spread amongst the exiles that the Post Office was to relocate to the site of the original Menary's shop at the top of 'Piper's Hill .

The shop had been on the site of 19 Market Square. I have seen adverts from as far back as 1901 for Menary Brothers on this site. 15year-old females were employed as apprentices to a millinery in 1906 and dressmaking in 1918.

In 1923 you could have purchased any of your 'high class millinery' including socks, braces, ties, wool shirts, knickers, hemstitch, casement cloth and bath towels. Various charges were brought against individuals caught breaking plate glass windows belonging to Fred Menary during the 1920's and 1930s.

19 Market Square is located on the corner of Market Lane known also as Piper's Hill that once joined Hill Street. It was only about 50 years ago when the last resident, Hugh Cunningham, lived at number 11 and the other 24 houses in the lane remaining at that time had been declared unfit for human habitation.

The lone piper of 1641 who literally lost his head, was reported haunting that area would have trouble finding his way about now. So too would the local 'choirboys' of 70 years ago.

But the 'Piper's Hill choir' must have been an added bonus to the immediate area. An old friend of mine told about the "choristers" of yesteryear and he recalled two lines of a rhyme they used. I found the complete verse amongst the exile's ramblings -

"We are the Piper's Hill choir
We sing for three ha'pence an hour,
We stand at Menary's and sing like canaries,
We are the Piper's Hill choir!"

Of course if you called with James Lundy at Longstone Street in September 1906 you might have spent a little more than three ha'pence and purchased the real thing. "For sale, the best and most beautiful birds, both in song and appearance - Canaries."

The Digger can be contacted at or through the Ulster Star office.

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